The editorial in today’s Financial Times on German energy policy made depressing reading, primarily because so much of it was wrong! It seems to me that it sums up that a lack of understanding of the challenges we face in Europe and globally on climate change and energy. So what was wrong?
Well the primary problem in Germany results from the contradiction of meeting emission reduction targets while shunning nuclear power as a consequence of a short sighted reaction to the Fukushima incident by the German electorate. This is what has led to the need to generate power from coal (and unpleasant lignite coal at that) as all nuclear power generation has either been shut down or will be by 2022. Given current technology, it is almost impossible to move to a low carbon electricity policy based on renewables without a base load contribution from nuclear power (unless a large proportion of power generation comes from hydro power).
Where the FT editorial is strange is the following:
“Under a policy long-known as “energy change”, the government aims to derive 80 per cent of Germany’s electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050. This is an ambitious target that delights the powerful green lobby. But it is increasingly seen by other nations as a lesson in the danger of doing too much too early on energy policy.”
The 80% target is a European target (see the EU Roadmap to 2050) not a German one, indeed the UK has exactly the same target. The German trajectory is also in line with other milestone European targets in the roadmap (if one has ruled out nuclear power as a means to achieve the targets).
The FT continues:
“Many Germans stick to the belief that Energiewende is an exciting project which, by 2050, will leave their country enjoying the cheapest, greenest and most sustainable energy supplies in the world. But the middle of the century is a long way off. In the short term, Germany’s great clean-up looks likely to result in more pollution and higher energy bills.”
The phrase “the middle of the century is a long way off” is particularly baffling. It’s actually 35 years off in one month, in terms of investing in electricity generation where most plants have a life of 30 years, the decisions we make now and in the next decade will determine the electricity generation mix in 2050. So we need a coherent electricity generation investment strategy to meet these targets in 2050 and we need it now.
My view is that that the strategy has to include nuclear and renewables. Coal doesn’t fit and as a transition gas is ok. And finally we need investment in the next stage low carbon sources.
What the FT should be doing is setting out what it believes to be the optimum electricity generation investment strategy for Europe to meet its emission reduction targets – not taking ill aimed pot shots at countries struggling with these issues.